CSU students use marketing skills to help provide affordable products to developing countries

Colorado State students are working with universities around the world to create a market and way to sell affordable products to developing countries.

As a part of CSU’s Global Social and Sustainable Use Enterprise (GSSE) MBA through the College of Business, students and staff have connected with students in Africa to create an international entrepreneurship program. The purpose of the program is to educate entrepreneurship in East Africa through Kenya’s United States International University.

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Students in the program learn how to market products for food and water for those who can’t afford everyday products. Students at CSU get to learn how to market and connect internationally with students around the world.

“Smart people design stuff for you and me,” said Carl Hammerdorfer, the director of GSSE. “[The problem is] how do we design for the other four million [people], so it’s affordable and durable. It is not enough to design a product, we have to get it to them, which is how our business comes into play.”

“We see enterprise solutions in most viable means to build prosperity in a developing country,” he added.

Recently, MIT was granted $15 million to design these products to improve life in Africa; however they needed people to know how to sell it on a market, according to Hammerdorfer. MIT gave the GSSE program $4.1 million to get their designs sold to the African people.

“CSU brings to the party a way to build a business to bring life-changing products to people,” Hammerdorfer said.

GSSE student Meghan Coleman and her team are currently working on a project with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to develop a sustainable supply chain for nutritious foods to low income consumers in East Africa’s slums. According to Coleman, they are using a model which provides a source of income for the unemployed youth in urban slums while also ensuring last-mile distribution and marketing of these valuable nutrition products.

“The hands-on experience of developing a business model then going out and validating whether or not it will be work in the market [is the most valuable thing],” Coleman said. “I can now talk intelligently in business-terms about why a social opportunity is financially sustainable.”

The GSSE program started at CSU about five years ago, when Hammerdorfer spent a year going to Africa to recruit students to come to CSU from Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. Hammerdorfer visited a dozen universities and learned that they had an interest in entrepreneurship.

“It was a eureka moment,” Hammerdorfer said. “Why bring Africans to Colorado when you could just bring the program to Africa? The expense to bring 100 Africans to CSU is millions of dollars. To bring the program there, can get more results for less money, which is what business is all about.”

GSSE established a sister program two years ago in Africa, Sustainable Enterprise MBAs for Africa (SEMBAA) through USIU. According to Hammerdorfer, the African students are able to use CSU’s resources, which provide them with technology and opportunities.

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“It is a semiotic relationship,” Hammerdorfer said. “Students get smart, motivated African entrepreneurs and that is important when doing business 10,000 miles away, but the African students get to us for resources, like access to our science research.”

As of now, the SEMBAA program has about 10 students, while GSSE has 50, but according to Hammerdorfer, there is no pressure to grow in numbers for the future; they are happy with 25 to 50 students involved in the program.

“The GSSE community is hands-down the best part of this program,” Coleman said. “I now have a network of intelligent and action-oriented colleagues who are equally passionate about addressing the same global challenges that I am.”

“[I was] attracted to the market-based approach as years of work in the nonprofit and international development sector has opened my eyes to how broken the current aid model is,” added Coleman. “[The program is the] perfect blending of social and environmental sciences with hard business language, and small cohort size meant greater interaction with my colleagues and professors.”

To apply to the program, it is the same as a regular MBA, but they are not taking young students who haven’t been in the field.

“This is really a foot in the door for the College of Business and the university to provide a high quality education,” Hammerdorfer said. “It is a substantial growth opportunity to look at education as a path toward middle class stable life, and see the real growth opportunities there.”